How to Make Tinctures and Tonics, Guide To Homemade Medicine

The world of plants is a powerful one. There are a wealth of components in plants that serve to protect them at various stages of development, as there are so many forces at play including weather, predators (including us) and soil quality. When we consume these plant constituents in various forms, we can also reap the benefits – but learning how to prepare these plants properly is crucial. This is where homemade tinctures and tonics come in.

Our students at the Academy of Culinary Nutrition love food and recipes, but as they begin to dive into culinary nutrition they also become inspired to create their own herbal medicine. Homemade tinctures and tonics are actually not as complicated as you might think  and when you learn the common methods to formulate them, the possibilities become endless.

How to Make Your Own Tinctures and Tonics

There are several ways you can extract the benefits from herbs and other plants. These are:

  1. Infusion: An infusion is when you steep plants in water or oil to glean their beneficial properties. One of the most common infusions is tea, which most of us are accustomed to drinking.
  2. Decoction: This is boiling an herb or vegetable in water, so the water then contains the soluble constituents of the plant being boiled. This is a great method for hardier plants that won’t ‘give up the goods’ with gentler methods – a good example would be chaga or reishi mushrooms.
  3. Tincture: A solution of alcohol or alcohol and water, along with the plant that you’re using for medicinal benefits. Tinctures usually take longer to make, anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months to fully saturate the liquid with the plant medicine (think of vanilla extract, for example).
  4. Maceration: Softening by soaking in a liquid.  Maceration is generally used for very delicate plants and the liquid is usually cold or barely heated. Often, macerations use oil as the liquid.

Choosing Herbs + Vegetables

The type of herb you use will depend on what your herbal medicine is for – it may be to boost the immune system, calm the nervous system, ease digestion or reduce inflammation. For a few recommended herbs for healing, you can check out our Guide to Culinary Adaptogens or our DIY Elixir Guide.

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How To Make Infusions

A good general rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon of herb to 1 cup of water – of course, this may vary depending on your personal tastes, and how strong or weak you prefer your infusion to be.

Some great herbs for infusions are:

  • Chamomile: Calming and great for digestion.
  • Peppermint: Helps to relax the muscles of the digestive tract and reduce spasms.
  • Cinnamon: Great for balancing blood sugar.
  • Ginger: Anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting and great for nausea.
  • Licorice: A great digestive aid, and it’s anti-microbial and anti-bacterial.
  • Turmeric:  Strongly anti-inflammatory and rich in anti-cancer properties.

How To Make Decoctions

Use about 1 teaspoon of herbs and one cup of cold water. Put your herbs and water into a pot,  then bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and let it simmer from 20 to 45 minutes, depending on how hardy the plant is. Strain the liquid, then drink or use it in your culinary recipes.

How To Make Tinctures

Tinctures are surprisingly easy to make! Instructions are below, plus there is a quick video here for the visual learners.

What you need:

  • Herb of choice
  • 40% vodka (in glass bottle)
  • 1 glass jar
  • Parchment paper
  • Masking tape for labelling
  • Cheesecloth or nut milk bag

How to Make Tinctures:

  1. Fill up glass jar with herb halfway.
  2. Add vodka so that level of the liquid is at least two inches above the herb. Note: If you are using dried herbs, you might have to add more vodka at a later time.
  3. Place parchment paper between the lid and jar. (This is done to prevent the rubber seal from dissolving.)
  4. Seal jar tightly.
  5. Label jar with date, percentage alcohol, herbs, and method used.
  6. Shake two times per day for one month.
  7. After a month squeeze out the menstrum (the resulting liquid) using cheesecloth or a nut milk bag.

How To Make Macerations

Many macerations are made using oils to gently extract the plant power. Put your herbs and oil into a small jar. You can let them infuse anywhere from an hour to a few weeks. For an example of how you can macerate for beauty care, check out this skin-soothing salve.

More Herbal Medicine Tips

  • Use the fresh herbs. This will produce the most powerful tincture and tonics. If your herbs don’t have a scent, that’s not going to change once you make your herbal medicine.
  • Cut the herbs into small pieces. This allows for a greater surface area so the plant compounds can infuse into the liquid.
  • Label your jars. Label your herbal medicines with the date and what’s inside them. That way there will be no confusion! (You may think you’ll remember what everything is. You won’t. Trust us!)
  • Start slowly. This is powerful plant medicine. These tinctures and tonics are meant to be taken in small amounts. With a tincture, you may only need a few drops.

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Tinctures and Tonics Culinary Nutrition Guide To Homemade Medicine

Image: ChamilleWhite

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10 responses to “How to Make Tinctures and Tonics, Guide To Homemade Medicine

  1. Eddie

    Your artcile is so detailed about how to prepare a proper tincture. Thank you! I have one question though.
    I leave in Malai and our local stores are not selling 190% proof alcohol (like everlast). On my side, I am trying to prepare the tinctures as much as closely to the recipe. I have many herbalism books which suggest certain volumes for the alcohol mentstrum. As an example for the Calendula Officinalis the recipe is 1:5 (w/v), 70% alcohol.
    Our local stores sale only 35% – 40% alcohol drinks (like vodka). Is there something that I can do for that? Like divide the alcohol and volume menstrum by 2 so my final output of the above recipe is 1:2,5 (w/v), 35% alcohol? Or I just have to stick to the folk method?
    I really would be grateful for any advice because that matter is a little bit confusing to me!
    Thank you in advance,

  2. Academy of Culinary Nutrition

    Hi Eddie! You should be OK with most herbs using a 40% alcohol, and you can do a small batch to test it out and ensure you are preserving properly with no mold growth. You can also try tincturing in vegetable glycerin for an alcohol-free option. There are some tinctures you can make with apple cider vinegar, like this one:

  3. Julia

    Hi there! I am looking to make my own tinctures! How do you get these approved by the FDA?

  4. Academy of Culinary Nutrition

    Hi Julia! This is beyond our scope, as these tinctures are intended for home use and not for sale. We recommend visiting the FDA’s website for more information about what is required to get tinctures approved if you’d like to start a business, or see if you can connect with a tincture business in your area for guidance. Good luck!

  5. Tam

    Having trouble understanding the 1:1 ratio. What does that mean is it 1cup water to 1 cup menstrum?

  6. Academy of Culinary Nutrition

    Hi Tam! For infusions and decoctions, the ratio is 1 teaspoon of herbs to 1 cup of water. It’s not 1:1 in equal measure. We hope this clears things up for you! Tincture amounts are more about the size of jar you choose – there is a tincture-making video in this post that might make it clearer for you:

  7. Morgan November 5, 2020

    How long do infusions and concoctions last?

  8. Academy of Culinary Nutrition November 10, 2020

    Hi Morgan! If you’re making tinctures with alcohol, they have a longer shelf life – a few months at least. If you’re making an infusion or decoction, it’s best to drink within a few days.

  9. Kim May 9, 2021

    If I wanted to mix water with everclear in making a tincture what should the water to alcohol ratio be?

  10. Academy of Culinary Nutrition May 11, 2021

    Hi Kim! We typically don’t dilute our tinctures with water when making them. There are a bunch of different water-to-alcohol ratios depending on what you are tincturing and the proof of the alcohol. There are a bunch of formulas here that you may find helpful:

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